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Homeowners feeling the pinch from renters.

Byline: Edward Russo The Register-Guard

It's a lofty Eugene goal: Grow more densely within the city limits while protecting the character of existing neighborhoods.

But the city's methods to reach that goal by encouraging so-called infill development have been difficult to implement without generating unintended consequences and backlash.

Homeowners, particularly near the University of Oregon, are complaining with increasing intensity about the conversion of single-family homes into rentals and the construction of duplexes, triplexes and apartment buildings geared toward students. The trend is prompting families and other longtime residents to move, they say.

The south university neighborhood is "so degraded, so destabilized by the amount of rental infill and the single-family housing that has been turned into rentals," said Carolyn Jacobs, chairwoman of the neighborhood association. "We have been bleeding owner-occupied residences for years."

Now, as part of Envision Eugene, the city's growth control effort, officials are proposing new rules for most of the city while simultaneously making it tougher, at least temporarily, to build certain types of dwellings in three neighborhoods around the University of Oregon.

Created with the help of citizen advisory committees, the citywide rules would govern a subset of housing, such as secondary dwellings of no more than 800 square feet built on the same lots as existing homes, and the construction of detached garages, studios, sheds and other accessory structures. The rules also would allow the creation of lots and houses off alleys. That would let some property owners fit more small dwelling units in established neighborhoods.

Most of the proposals would apply to all low-density residential - or R-1 - zoned land in the city, with the exception of three neighborhoods close to the UO - south university, Fairmount and Amazon.

These neighborhoods that once were predominately owner occupied are considered to be vulnerable to the destabilizing effects of rental development.

At the request of leaders in the three neighborhoods, the city is proposing to temporarily exempt their areas from many of the new rules while imposing tough new building restrictions. The building "time out" for the types of infill would last until permanent building standards are developed for the three neighborhoods, perhaps in a few years.

"A lot of their concerns are very valid about what is happening in their neighborhoods, and it just seemed like the right opportunity to take a time out," said Alissa Hansen, a city senior planner.

Yet not everyone in the three neighborhoods thinks the interim building restrictions are a good idea.

For residents elsewhere in Eugene, the proposed rules are meant to encourage urban density - the city goal - while preserving neighborhood liveablity by making the new, smaller dwellings more compatible with existing houses.

Through prior policies and Envision Eugene, city leaders have embraced the idea of encouraging more compact development, so most of the homes, apartments, stores and businesses built in the next 20 years would be within the present urban growth boundary, the line beyond the city limits that designates where future development can take place.

"In order to minimize the expansion of the urban growth boundary, we need to have more infill," said Sue Prichard, a south Eugene resident and former owner of a commercial real estate brokerage firm. "And to have more infill, we need standards to regulate it."

Officials estimate that about 125 small houses could fit into existing neighborhoods under the proposed infill rules, a small portion of the 8,310 new single-family homes that Eugene expects to need to accommodate future residents.

Ignoring the rules

The planning commission will review the proposed rules on Tuesday evening. The City Council, the final decision maker, is expected to take up the proposals in November.

The rules would take effect only after the City Council approved them, perhaps late this year or next year. Development plans submitted before then would be governed by present land use rules.

Some residents may ask why three neighborhoods deserve special treatment regarding infill development.

With UO enrollment steadily increasing, the three campus-area neighborhoods are absorbing more student rentals, ranging from large, newly constructed apartment complexes to converted single-family homes.

The change is evident in parts of the Fairmount and south university neighborhoods, where present zoning has allowed towering apartment buildings to be constructed next to older, one-story homes.

Longtime residents say there are other examples of increased density hurting their neighborhoods.

Under present city code, for example, only five or fewer unrelated people are supposed to live in a single-family home, even if it's been converted to a rental. But longtime residents say some property owners and renters ignore that rule. Some landlords also are ignoring the requirement that if they have two homes on a tax lot, they must live in one of the dwellings, insted of renting both out, residents say.

"When we file complaints with the city about that, the city finds it very difficult to enforce," said Camilla Bayliss, a Fairmount resident who lives three blocks east of Matthew Knight Arena. "We have four or five illegal rentals just in my part of the neighborhood."

With these pressures, the leaders of the Fairmount and south university neighborhoods objected to the proposed infill building rules that would have allowed more development, such as the creation of new alley access lots.

The city "keeps telling us to increase the density in our neighborhood, and they don't have a clue of how dense we really are," Bayliss said.

Not all are satisfied

After hearing the objections, city officials initially proposed exempting the Fairmount and south university neighborhoods from the new infill regulations and instituting the temporary building ban.

Leaders in the Amazon neighborhood, south of East 24th Avenue, learned about what was proposed for the two other neighborhoods and got their area covered by the same proposed rules, including the interim building prohibitions.

Still, some of the neighborhood leaders aren't completely satsified because some of the proposed building regulations still would apply to their areas, such as the design rules for new structures on existing alley lots.

"They would still allow for development that could have significant negative impacts on neighborhoods," said Steven Asbury, co-chair of Fairmount Neighbors. "There appears to be no clear concept for what alleys might become, and there has been inadequate analysis and discussion of potential impacts with residents."

And the building ban, while supported by several neighborhood leaders, has sparked a debate among residents of the three neighborhoods.

Ban would limit options

Homeowners who had plans to build studios or cottages in their backyards for their own purposes - not to rent to students - say the interim bans would deprive them the use of their properties. They say existing rules allow them to build such structures and it's unfair for the city to remove that right.

Retirees Libby and Joseph Bottero live in a two-story home at East 28th Avenue and University Street, with their son, daughter-in-law and three grandchildren.

It's an ideal multi-generation living arrangement, with the Botteros taking care of their grandkids when the parents are working.

The Botteros' Amazon neighborhood house sits on a double lot, with enough room for another house that they would like to build in a few years.

"We would like to have a two-bedroom, 800-square-foot home over here," Libby Bottero said, pointing to the sideyard.

She objects to the temporary building ban.

"We don't want that option taken away from us," she said.

City leaders need to "take families into consideration," Bottero added. "A small, secondary unit does not necessarily mean it's going to be a student rental filled with drunken college students."

Looking for a balance

Jacobs, the chairwoman of the South University Neighborhood Association, said the proposed interim building prohibitions are not meant to inconvenience homeowners.

"We hope the interim measures will be replaced as soon as possible with plan policies and zoning standards that ensure a reasonable balance between owner-occupied homes and rentals," she said.

"Until we get those standards in place, however, we have to hold back on additional (secondary dwelling units) which, in this area, are too often jammed with student renters," Jacobs said.

Hansen, the city planner, said the city is committed to conducting a planning study for the university areas after the adoption of Envision Eugene, in the next year or so.

The study could lead to separate building standards for campus-area neighborhoods, governing such things as building heights and setbacks from property lines, she said.

Meanwhile, city officials want to hear from residents about the infill building rules proposed for most of the city, plus the interim building prohibitions for the three neighborhoods.

"The draft code language is just a starting point," Hansen said. "We expect it to be influenced by public comment throughout the process."


Eugene planners are proposing new building rules for secondary dwellings, accessory structures and alley access lots and houses on low-density residential (R-1) zoned land. The changes, if approved by the City Council, would apply to most residential land in the city.

The changes for secondary dwelling units are meant to promote buildings that are compatible with existing houses by clarifying ownership and occupancy requirements, and improving design by addressing such things as large walls, privacy and building heights.

The proposed changes include:

Requiring property owners to provide proof they occupy one of two dwellings built on the same lot for at least six months of the year.

Limiting building height to 15 or 18 feet, depending on roof pitch.

Limiting number of bedrooms to two.

Clarifying that for attached structures, the primary and secondary dwelling units must share a common wall of at least eight feet.

Providing ways to allow existing legal accessory buildings to be converted to secondary dwellings.

For accessory buildings, such as detached garages, sheds and studios, the goal is to promote compatibility with existing houses and to clarify differences between accessory buildings and dwellings.

The proposed changes include:

Limiting building height to 22 feet, and limiting building size.

Clarifing that accessory buildings cannot be used as dwellings.

For new and existing alley access lots and houses, the goal is to create lots that front alleys rather than streets, and to create lots from the rear of existing lots.

Design standards are to make buildings created on the lots compatible with existing houses by addressing such things as looming walls, privacy, parking and building height. The design standards are proposed to apply to existing alley access lots, along with those yet-to-be-created lots.

The proposed changes include:

Requiring minimum alley access lot size of 2,250 square feet, not to exceed 40 percent of original lot that must be at least 9,000 square feet.

Requiring minimum 50-foot frontage/lot width and depth of at least 35 feet.

Requiring at least 14-foot-wide alley, with at least 12 feet of width paved.

Dwelling size limited to 1,000 square feet in floor area. For 1 1/2 story dwellings, 400-square-foot limit on second floor.

Limiting building height to 24 feet with sloped setbacks.

Limiting number of bedrooms to three.

Secondary dwelling units would not be allowed on alley access lots.

Several of the proposed rules would not apply to three neighborhoods close to UO - the Fairmount, south university and Amazon.

Instead, temporary rules would be imposed to prevent the creation of:

New secondary dwelling units, rowhouses, duplexes and other types of attached housing.

New rezonings to R-1.5 rowhouse zone.

New alley access, flag lots.

Also, the number of bedrooms in remodeled and new homes would be limited to three.

The size and number of accessory buildings would be limited, as would the location and amount of front-yard parking.
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Title Annotation:Eugene Government
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Sep 8, 2013
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